Romans 8 and Ephesians 1 have become famous “tourist attractions” for Calvinists traveling along the pilgrim trail to wherever they were predestined to vacation. They see it as a great place to pull over, take off their shoes, and frolic among the TULIPs. This is due to the fact that those two chapters contain some of Calvinism’s favorite words – that is, if you are wearing the special “Bible-decoder goggles” that come along with a membership to Club Calvin.
The Calvinist (as does every heretic, to some degree) sees his theology in virtually every verse of scripture he reads. He sees it not because it’s there, but because he has latched onto a preconception, wedded his pre-conception to scripture, and from that union birthed several misconceptions. For example, when a Calvinist reads words like “pre-destination,” “foreknowledge,” “called,” and “elect,” he reads them ONLY through the filter of his Calvinistic Bible-decoder goggles which conveniently filter out for him any scriptures or concepts that go against the TULIP system. These special glasses also benefit the wearer by blocking out the harmful light rays of common sense and reason.
For the purposes of this study, our approach will be to look at these verses through the eyes of the Calvinist first, and then we will “take off the goggles” and let the scriptures speak for themselves.
The TULIP System, Briefly
Before we get into the exposition of Ephesians 1 and Romans 8, an understanding of the Calvinists’ doctrinal system is necessary. Calvinism is a broad reference to what some call “the Doctrines of Predestination.” It is a preconceived notion concerning predestination that leads to the misconceptions of Calvinism. Predestination is a great Bible concept (“predestinate,” and “predestinated” are both found in scripture), and we will later examine the Biblical definition of this word, but it is a word on which the Calvinists (having errone-ously defined it) base their belief system.
The Calvinistic theology of predestination has God, in his “sovereign grace,” (a term found nowhere in the Bible) both predetermining and prearranging, “before the foundation of the world,” (taken from Eph. 1:4) EVERYTHING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED OR EVER WILL HAPPEN. In simple terms, this means God has set everything up to happen according to His own Will and by eternal decree (a term found nowhere in the Bible); and nothing happens, ever, under any condition, that He did not intend to happen, actively choose to happen, and by His power MAKE to happen. This is an unscriptural and irreverent (to put it mildly) view of God, as any thinking person can deduce. If you follow the logic, it places the ultimate responsibility for all of man’s sins on God. Nevertheless, it is of utmost importance in this study to note that this concept of God is the source from which the doctrines of Calvinism spring. These doctrines are condensed to five points, and an acronym, “TULIP,” is made by putting the points in order:
T – Total Depravity
U – Unconditional Election
L – Limited Atonement
I – Irresistible Grace
P – Perseverance of the Saints
For now, we are only going to discuss the first two points. After dispensing with them, the remainder of the TULIP withers accordingly.
“Total Depravity” (a term found nowhere in the Bible) is supposed to reference the darkened and sinful condition of man’s nature due to Adam’s sin in Genesis 3. The word “depraved” means “morally corrupt,” and it can hardly be argued that mankind is otherwise – but that’s the point. Total Depravity is a smoke-screen designed to take the focus off of what the Calvinist truly believes, which is that man is so totally depraved and sinful that he cannot freely choose to believe the gospel, and trust Jesus Christ as his Saviour. Man has no free will, in other words. In Calvinism, depravity extends to the will; and mankind has an inability to make ANY right choices. The doctrine of Total Depravity is, in truth, the doctrine of Total Inability; and it should be noted that the Calvinists support this point using verses that deal with inability and not depravity. For example, the Calvinist will point to a passage like Romans 7:15-20:
(15) For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. (16) If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. (17) Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. (18) For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. (19) For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. (20) Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
This passage, when read with our special goggles, shows us that Paul had an INABILITY to do good. It says exactly that in verse 19. He admits he cannot find “how to perform that which is good.”
Galatians 5:17 is another example:
“For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.”
The verse states plainly that you “cannot” (total inability) do what you want to do because of your sinful depravity.
Yet another example is Matthew 7:17-18:
(17) Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. (18) A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Again, we see through the filter of Calvinism a total inability in man to do good things. There are scores of other verses used by the Calvinist to prove man has no free will because of his depraved nature.
But do these scriptures actually prove Calvinism’s doctrine of Total Depravity? That remains to be seen, for all the Calvinist has done so far is, 1) Declare his theory – “Man is totally depraved, and therefore unable to do/think anything righteous”; 2) Utilize the INDUCTIVE method of reasoning to cherry-pick verses out of the Bible that seem to support his theory.
All heresy is born from the same illicit affair: 1. ADD to the scripture. 2. SUBTRACT from the scripture. 3. REMOVE the scripture from its context. 4. CHANGE the scripture to make it fit a preconceived notion. The above samples only “prove” what the Calvinist teaches when you perpetrate one or more of these four crimes against the word of God.
For example, who, after actually reading Romans 7, could miss several items in blatant opposition to the Calvinist’s position?
Notice, after confessing “in my flesh dwelleth no good thing,” Paul states, “for to will is present with me” (v. 18). Paul said he had a will to do good. The Calvinist has subtracted that phrase from the passage without dealing with it. Paul admits his depravity, and then states his depravity has no connection with his will to do good.
The context of Romans 7 is found in Romans 8:1 (notice the “therefore”), where to the dismay of the Calvinist you are told that the whole point of Paul’s discussion on being in bondage to the “law of sin” versus serving “the law of God” (vs. 25) was to urge his reader to exercise his free will and CHOOSE to “walk in the Spirit,” and “not after the flesh” (see 8:1-5)! Somebody pulled that entire passage (Rom. 7:15-20) out of its proper context. But that isn’t all.
Notice (as is also the case in Galatians 5:17) the “wretched man” in whose flesh “dwelleth no good thing” – the apostle Paul – is SAVED; and so are his readers (those instructed to walk in the Spirit, and not after the flesh – 8:1-5). So as it turns out, a man’s depravity is not affected by salvation (or by being one of “the elect,” apparently). And that being the case, if a Christian can choose to reject his new nature and walk after the flesh, why can’t a lost man choose to reject his nature to do right? After all, in the same book (Romans 1:26, 27) we have lost men and women who go “against nature” to do wrong; why can’t they go “against nature” to do right?
Romans 7 describes the conflict between the fleshly nature and the spiritual nature of the Christian. The two natures are said to be at war with one another (v.23). But Romans 6, 7, and 8, when taken in context, make the point that the choice is left up to the individual Christian to obey the flesh, or obey the Spirit. To top it all, it is not the condition of “mankind" that is being discussed in the context, but rather the conduct of Christians. Based on the discussions in these chapters, the correct statement to make is, “A Christian is unable to obey the Spirit of God in the instances he chooses to follow after his flesh.” It is obvious to anyone who can read English that this is not the same as saying “It is impossible at ALL times for lost men to decide to reject the impulses of their flesh and respond to the Holy Spirit.” Romans 7 makes no mention of this.
Galatians 5:17 is exactly the same warning as found in Romans 7, for the verse right before it gives the same command to Christians: “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (v.16). Verse 17 is easily clarified as having nothing to do with blanket statements regarding the depravity of mankind or his free agency, but rather the choice of the Christian to do right or wrong. A Christian’s inability (“ye cannot do the things that ye would”) is conditioned upon whether he chooses to be led by the flesh or the Spirit. While you follow the flesh, you cannot do the things the new man/nature wants; and while you follow the Spirit, you cannot do what the old man/nature wants. There is no fence-straddling. But who could miss that who simply read the context? (Read Gal. 5:16-26.)
Finally, the Calvinistic overtones of Matthew 7:17, 18 are easily dispensed with by once again paying attention to the context (it’s called reading). Yes, a corrupt tree is unable to bring forth good fruit; but to say this refers to the depravity of mankind and robs him of his free will is beyond the pale. The corrupt tree is NOT identified as mankind in the passage, but as a FALSE PROPHET (read the passage, v15-20).
The deception of Total Depravity is accomplished by a two-step process. Step one: Establish that “Man has a depraved, fallen nature (scriptural), and therefore has an inability to exercise free will (unscriptural) in making any right choice.” Step two: When anyone disagrees and says man has a free will, then bring up the scriptures that illustrate man’s depravity, and pretend you’ve argued against free will. That is, the mistake of the Calvinist is to assume depravity EQUALS inability. Once you’ve defined depravity as inability, then you can “prove” your heresy from scripture. In reality, all you’ve done is CHANGE the scriptures to fit your brand of theology. You use a King James Bible, but instead of physically changing the words in the text as the new versions do, you simply change them mentally as you read them, and cleverly preserve your image as a “Bible-believer.”
Election and Foreknowledge In Romans 8
The "U" in the TULIP stands for "unconditional election". The idea is, God chose certain people to be saved regardless of their will in the matter one way or the other. Calvinism doesn't allow for the free will and choice of man, as we saw under Total Depravity.
With regard to "unconditional election," the main verses the Calvinists emphasize in Romans 8 are verses 28-33:
(28) And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (29) For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. (30) Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. (31) What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? (32) He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? (33) Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth.
“All things work together for good...”
Notice, the “good” is not foreordained, but rather the fact that whatever takes place will work together for good. In plainer words, the verse does not say that God has predestined certain specific, good things to happen to Christians. He has promised that, whatever actions the Christian chooses to take in life, and whatever befalls him in the way of trials or temptations, will ultimately work together for good.
Now, every Christian is called according to God’s purpose. God never saved anybody for whom He had no plans for using in His service, at some capacity or another. The “calling” is not reserved for pastors, evangelists, and missionaries only. Verse 30 (which we will get to in detail in a minute) states plainly that “whom he did predestinate, them he also called.” Every Christian has been “predestinated” (vs. 29), “accepted in the Beloved,” (Eph. 1:4-6), and therefore “called according to his purpose.” According to this verse, the Christian who has a “love problem” might have a hard time applying the promise that “all things will work together for good.” That being said, the promise is still true of every Christian without exception in the sense that, at the end of his or her life, no matter their victories, defeats, or troubles, they WILL end up in a body just like Jesus Christ’s in glory and, “It Will Be Worth It All When We See Jesus.” I’d venture that qualifies as all things working together for good.
“For whom he did foreknow...” (v.29)
Did you ever meet anybody you didn’t know before? That’s what happened when you met Jesus Christ and got saved. You didn’t know Him before that. That’s the definition of “foreknow;” it’s to “know before” (it was difficult to piece that together, right?). Did you know there was a time when God didn’t know you? You say, “God’s always known me; He knows everything!” Tell that to the apostle Paul:
(7) “Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. (8) Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. (9) But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are KNOWN OF GOD, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?” (Gal. 4:7-9)
This explains Jesus Christ’s statement in Matthew 7:23, “...I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” That statement is given to a bunch of unsaved false prophets at the White Throne judgment who have done mighty works in the name of the Lord, but get tossed into hell (v.19) because they refused to do the will of God the Father (v.21). Obviously, God “knows everything and everybody” in the sense of possessing the informative data. This led Job to exclaim, “Shall any teach God knowledge?” (Job 21:22), and David, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it” (Psa. 139:6). However, Romans 8:29, Gal. 4:9, and Matthew 7:23 do not refer to God’s knowledge in the sense of information, but His knowledge in the sense of relationship. That is, until you trust Christ as your Saviour and become a child of God (Gal. 4:7, above), God does not know you as His son. You are not part of the family. He has no relation to you, nor you to Him, and therefore you are not “known of God.” [This term is used in the context of intimate relationships throughout the Bible: “Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived” (See also I Ki. 1:4; Matt. 1:25)]
The Calvinist would have you believe that God “knew you” before you knew Him, and chose you to be saved – as one of the “elect” – without you having a say in the matter. But this is unscriptural nonsense. The passage in Galatians we’ve cited above shows plainly that you got to know God when you became His son (v. 7, 8 – Read it!), and you’re told in verse 9 that God got to know you at the same time. When did you become His son? When you received Christ: “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:” (John 1:12). So you became a “son” of God at the time you received Jesus Christ as your Saviour, and you entered into His “foreknowledge” at what time you became His son. Before this point, He “never knew you” as His son, though He knew everything about you, including the fact that you would one day become His son. And that’s the only way to understand the operation without butchering the scriptures and reading preconceptions into it. You leave the texts as they stand, and believe them.
“For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate...”
Predestination is conditioned upon foreknowledge. What is foreknowledge? It is the term used to describe the sense in which God knows someone in salvation, as a son of God. You entered God’s foreknowledge at the point you trusted Christ as your Saviour, and when you did, you got in on a promise that God has made to WHOSOEVER receives His Son as their Saviour. Your destiny is “fixed.” Salvation is what “fixes” it. Before you were saved, you were predestined to go to hell in your sins. John 3:18 states, “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Your destiny is changed the moment you trust Christ, NEVER TO BE CHANGED AGAIN (Romans 8).
Once again, we trip over the Calvinist who, having caught his toe on a root sticking out of the ground in the field of TULIPS he was romping in, is lying prostrate at our feet. What distracted him was the word “predestinate.” As soon as he reads it, he proclaims “See there?! See?! The elect ARE predestinated! It says so right there!” But having failed to remove his decoder goggles he has blown it again.
The verse says nothing about anybody, elect or non-elect, being predestinated to salvation. It plainly says, “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate TO BE CONFORMED TO THE IMAGE OF HIS SON,” not “predestinate to be one of the elect”! In other words, if you’re saved, you are now predestined to receive a glorified body JUST LIKE the risen, glorified body of Jesus Christ. And if anybody else decides to get saved, they will get “predestinated” to receive the same.
God did not predestinate individual Christians before the foundation of the world. What happened before the foundation world was, God predetermined the means by which an individual can be predestinated. Anybody who receives God's Son as their Saviour will ultimately be conformed to His image. In short, it was Jesus Christ who was predestinated – (1Pet. 1:18-21)
“Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; (19) But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: (20) Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, (21) Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God.”
This brings us to Ephesians Chapter 1, the chapter the Calvinists say we non-Calvinists can’t or won’t preach or teach from. It needs very little comment when taken in the light of what we’ve already discussed in Romans 8.
“According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:” (v4)
Remember, elect means chosen, and we were chosen IN HIM, therefore we were not elected before we were in Him. You were not always IN HIM, because you were once “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1), without Christ (2:12), and in need of “quickening” – in need of life (2:1). You also needed your sin “put away” (Heb. 9:26) so you could be “made nigh by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13) and be “accepted in the beloved” (1:6). You became one of the elect when God chose you; and God hath chosen us IN HIM. It was not before the foundation of the world that you were chosen to be saved; you were chosen and accepted IN THE BELOVED at a point in time, when you got saved, and not a second before. The only thing that was chosen before the foundation of the world was that WHOEVER IS IN CHRIST would appear “holy and without blame before him.”
Eph. 1:11 – “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:”
We’ve already covered predestination. Notice you were predestinated TO OBTAIN AN INHERITANCE. What’s the inheritance? Well, you inherit your Father’s traits and appearance (vs. 12-14).
Eph 1:13 – “That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise”
And there’s the order of the operation, in direct contradiction of the doctrine of unconditional election. 1) You hear the word of truth 2) You believe and trust 3) THEN you’re sealed by the Holy Spirit AFTER you believe.